No One Respects Cowardice Anymore

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Humorists often address controversial and taboo subjects. There’s nothing like a good controversy to provide a nearly unlimited number of opportunities for a wicked wit. Taboos, particularly the sexual sort, make most people just a tad nervous, so tipping your audience toward laughter is easy, often too easy. However, if your primary genre is not Make ’em Laugh, addressing such subjects may cause apprehension.

A few days ago, I came across an online discussion on self-censorship. Many writers readily admitted that they modify their prose and avoid controversial topics for fear of offending readers.

“I’m offended!”
“Before I bother to care, which congressional district are you in?”

An Obvious Exception
If you happen to write children’s literature, you get a pass on today’s somewhat weighty topic. Censor away, and most parents will thank you for not turning fairy tales into erotic, political hot button thrillers with enough blood splatter to rival a Bronx crime report. Children have video games for that.

Children’s authors are also forgiven for only promoting one four-letter word: love. All others should be learned in a schoolyard. It’s tradition.


If you write for adults, is it possible that self-censorship really is mere cowardice?


I am not a coward! I just happen to like the view under this bed.

Marketing As Justification
Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"Avoiding offense does have some short-term applicability from a marketing standpoint. The public likes pablum, which is easily found on any magazine rack, often the literary equivalent of YouTube kittens. However, there is a much more viable argument, and historical proof, that the public has other tastes as well. Writers who fully express a unique voice often become bestsellers, and possibly, classics. So, marketing sense does indicate that censoring your muse may be a rather stupid decision.

Stupid is a state of mindless.

Offense And\Or Criticism
Is self-censoring really avoiding reader offense, or avoiding criticism? After all, few readers or reviewers express strong negative opinions about the bland, and a fear of criticism is certainly not a new concern:

To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing. – Aristotle

Offense (and taking offense) is also ancient, having been around since before humans climbed down from the trees in search of a Starbucks, where in most cases, modern people have replaced a duel to the death between offender and offended with significantly more civilized conversations and attitudes:

It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.Stephen Fry

What is offensive humor?
Is it possible to say anything without offending someone?

Probably not, so why not pick a side on any issue, controversial or otherwise.

Today, FOX “News” again refuted the rumor that there is somewhere on planet Earth a liberal who may be worth listening to.

Consider also, nearly anyone’s words can be easily, and even purposefully, misconstrued. It’s likely impossible to remove all offense from everything you write. Say nothing and you may still cause offense:

That’s cheek! He left the page blank!

Degrading Your Writer’s Voice
No one is forced to address topics that they’d rather not. Conversely, fear of offense is a lousy editing criteria.

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.Dr. Seuss

Assuming that you’re not writing humorous cocktail napkins for a convent, in self-censoring your writing without an extremely well-considered and decidedly valid reason, the best work that you can hope to achieve is a mere shadow of what you’re capable of producing.

Parting Funny: My wife insists on turning off the lights when we make love. That doesn’t bother me. It’s the hiding that seems so cruel.Jonathan Katz
Next Up: Sarcasm: PRO or CON?
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3 thoughts on “No One Respects Cowardice Anymore

  1. It is possible to be funny without being TOO offensive. I’ve seen Jim Gaffigan (?) do an amazing job by simply making himself and his Catholicism the butt of his own jokes. Poking fun at himself works very well for him. I’ve seen other comedians do similar, or just be hilariously observant of the world around them.

    The other kind I do without – so I’m probably a coward. But there were no issues I didn’t tackle if they came up when I wrote the novel I just published, so I guess I’ll tackle what I want to be brave about. I’m not particularly funny, though may occasionally be accused of dry wit. Not BRITISH dry wit – that takes an awful lot of work. But something occasionally funny, as things happen in real life.

    (Followed from your post on GR.)


    • Thanks, Alicia. Gaffigan is excellent, and offense is as subjective as humor itself. Just don’t let it scare you, and keep working on that dry wit. That’s a favorite of mine, and by no means limited to Brits!

      Liked by 1 person

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